JULY 27, 1964
In 1956 Oklahoma senior running back Tommy McDonald narrowly missed having his name recorded as one of the Heisman Trophy winners at New York City's Downtown Athletic Club. McDonald received the most first-place votes for the Heisman that year, but after the second-and third-place ballots were tallied, he wound up third in overall points—behind winner Paul Hornung of Notre Dame and Johnny Majors of Tennessee—in one of the closest calls in the trophy's history.
McDonald eventually got his name prominently displayed at the Downtown Athletic Club anyway: 61 times and counting. Following a 12-year NFL career as a wide receiver for five teams, during which he made six Pro Bowls and three SPORTS ILLUSTRATED covers, McDonald started a portrait business that has produced official likenesses of every Heisman winner dating from the first, the University of Chicago's Jay Berwanger, in 1935. Even though McDonald doesn't wield the brush himself—"God blessed me with being able to catch the football and run, not with being able to paint," he says—his signature appears in the bottom righthand corner of each portrait to identify it as the work of Tommy McDonald Enterprises. The latest subject will be announced on Dec. 14, in the Downtown A.C.'s portrait-lined Heisman Room.
McDonald, known in his playing days for being only 5'9" but having great hands, says he got the idea for his company in 1966 when a fan gave him a portrait drawn from one of McDonald's team publicity head shots. McDonald retired after the '68 season and approached the Heisman Committee with a sample painting done from a photo of its most recent honoree, O.J. Simpson of Southern Cal, and sold his idea.
McDonald's company employs six artists and produces two 16-by-20-inch Heisman portraits each year for the Downtown A.C. while continuing to develop a long list of other clients. "We've painted everyone from Don Shula to Miss America," says McDonald. His artists have produced two portraits of their boss, having painted the winners of the Maxwell Award, presented annually by the Maxwell Club of Philadelphia to the nation's best college football player, and Oklahoma's All-Americas—honors McDonald did win in '56. McDonald, 62, runs his business out of his home in King of Prussia, Pa., where he lives with his wife, Patty. He also owns a plaque company, the name of which reflects his storied jovial personality: Old McDonald Had a Firm.